Missing for 20 years, she's not forgotten

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Of all the clues that 15-year-old Kelly Morrissey left behind more than 20 years ago, family, friends and police can draw only one certain conclusion: She had no intention of running away.

Before meeting a friend the night of June 12, 1984, Morrissey had laid out her outfit for the next day - a new pair of black jeans with the tags yet to be removed, and a blue, sleeveless, scoop-neck blouse. She took no extra clothes, no other belongings and no cache of savings that a runaway would be expected to take. And she was due to get her paycheck the next day.

"You don't run away before pay day, without any money," said Iris Olmstead, 61, Morrissey's mother. "You don't run off without your brand new jeans and shirt laid out to wear the next day. Nothing made sense."

Because of some apparent similarities between Morrissey's case and that of Theresa Fusco, another Lynbrook girl who was killed the same year, Nassau homicide detectives have recently re-opened the case. Even so, they say they have developed no new leads.

Morrissey, like some of her peers, had begun to push the limits, sometimes sneaking off to the woods with friends to drink beer purchased by the older crowd who hung out at the local arcade, one friend said. She sometimes broke her curfew, but she always came home, her mother said.

Since the day she vanished, Morrissey's picture has been posted in police departments and on milk cartons around the country. Her family realizes she probably is dead. But with no body and no physical evidence, it is hard for them to let go of the last shard of hope that she could be alive somewhere.

Even after more than two decades, something as harmless as "Kelly" printed on a store clerk's name tag can still trigger their heartache.

Her mother and stepfather have put their Lynbrook home up for sale, but the thought of leaving is still difficult for them. Iris Olmstead still keeps a phone listing as Iris Morrissey, her name from her first marriage, just in case, she said.

"The phone could ring today and Kelly's on your mind," said Paul Olmstead, Morrissey's stepfather who, with his own children, began living with Iris and her children as a blended family in 1981.

Morrissey's disappearance also continues to gnaw at Nassau Homicide Squad Dets. Michael O'Leary and Michael Kuhn, who are now officially investigating her case. She had had some ties to two of the three men accused of raping and murdering Morrissey's classmate, Theresa Fusco in 1984.

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Although detectives learned that Morrissey had bragged to classmates that she knew one of the defendants, Dennis Halstead, and had the key to his apartment, they say there is no physical evidence linking Halstead to her disappearance.

The convictions of Halstead and the other two men, John Restivo and John Kogut, were overturned in 2003 because of DNA evidence pointing to another.

Prosecutors so far have decided to try Kogut again. Since the verdicts in the Fusco homicide were vacated, homicide detectives renewed their investigation of the Fusco case as well as Morrissey's disappearance and the death of Jacqueline Martarella, 19, whose body was found in April 1985 in a grassy area near the 17th hole of the Woodmere Country Club golf course.

The attorneys who worked to free the three defendants imprisoned for 17 years for the Fusco murder also speculate that the two cases could be linked.

One of them, Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project, emphasized that the DNA evidence pointed to a fourth, unknown man. "The link is not Dennis Halstead, John Restivo and John Kogut," she said. "And there has never been a shred of evidence to say that they had anything to do with Kelly Morrissey's disappearance."

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Kuhn and O'Leary also do not believe Morrissey ran away. But they say there is nothing substantial to suggest the cases are related. "Her name kept coming up when we were looking into the Fusco case, through friends of both girls," said Kuhn. "Somebody may think that this case is solved, that she came home.

But maybe we can jar people's memory [by talking about the case]. Something they didn't think was important then, they might realize it's important now."

Morrissey's family worries it will never learn what happened to her.

"There are the same questions now as there were then," said Paul Olmstead, Morrissey's stepfather. "I don't expect miracles, but you never know."

The last sighting of Morrissey, according to police records, was on the night of June 12, 1984, after the two boys she and her friend, Gail Cole, were supposed to meet never showed up. Morrissey mentioned she might stop in at Captain Video, the local hangout, and began walking west down Merrick Road in Lynbrook. No one police interviewed remembered seeing Morrissey at the video arcade.

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The spot was known as a hangout for more than the high school kids. Others, mostly men, in their late teens and 20s socialized there as well. Sometimes, Kelly and her underage friends would pay these men to purchase beer for them, said her high school friend Regina Nezamoodeen.

She and Morrissey hung out in crowds that sometimes overlapped, they both liked Led Zeppelin and playing Miss Pac Man at Captain Video.

Morrissey was a typical teenager, who took pains to be well groomed, blow drying her feathered hair and applying fresh make-up each morning, said Nezamoodeen, now 36, of North Babylon. She too said she believes Morrissey didn't run away.

"The next day was our ninth- grade social studies final exam," Nezamoodeen said. "If Kelly didn't pass the final, she would have to repeat summer school and she was determined to pass it."

The teacher held up the exam for 10 minutes for her, Nezamoodeen recalled.

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"Next thing you know, I don't remember who told me, she was missing," Nezamoodeen said.

Nezamoodeen still thinks about Morrissey and wonders how her friend's parents are doing. As a mother of a 15-month-old boy, she said she can only begin to imagine the pain of a child gone missing. Sometimes when she is driving, the question of just where Morrissey could be emerges.

"When we went to Virginia I thought of Kelly," Nezamoodeen said. "And I said to my husband, 'There are so many places to toss a body and never have it found.' Kelly could be anywhere."

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